Anna Speer: The Effect of REST on the Creative Process

Hello, my name is Anna Speer and I am a sophomore studio art student pursuing my
BFA. I am primarily a painter, although I enjoy working with other mediums such as
printmaking and drawing. I am incredibly grateful to have been chosen as a recipient of an IDEA grant!

Anna Speer, Sophomore, Studio Art

Throughout my life, it has become increasingly apparent that the minds of people today are busier than ever before; stimulation never ceases and the consumption of content, especially among young people, is constant and overwhelming. The opposite of the extremely busy reality of the modern individual can be found through complete sensory deprivation. For my project, I will research how the consistent use of sensory deprivation float therapy (also referred to as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy, or REST) can affect creativity. I am curious about the experience and how the practice could influence my mentality on a daily basis, as well as how it can affect my approach to my creative practice.

When I was very young, I began to draw to occupy myself when I was bored, which
happened a to be lot of the time. I developed a passion for drawing, which eventually led me to painting. Oftentimes, boredom is a great catalyst for the creative process as it creates something called “stimulus hunger,” which is when one lacks mental or physical sensory input. Stimulus hunger creates an opportunity for our minds to begin coming up with ways to keep us busy and entertained, which for me, resulted in picking up drawing as a young child.

A painting from 2022 entitled Sundogs

However, the simple boredom that used to inspire me is not as frequent anymore; it’s
been replaced with endless stimulation. I rarely experience a moment that I am not thinking of many things at once, consuming useless content, trying to check things off of my to-do list, or responding to texts and emails, which I am sure many can relate to in this day and age. This prompted me to come up with the idea for my research project, as I was curious about what the effects of being completely deprived of any external stimuli would do for my creative process. I am extremely interested in the stark difference between the two extremes of sensory input; our regular, chaotic, days, and the absolute lack of stimuli felt in a sensory deprivation tank. I believe that quieting my surroundings and dedicating a few hours a week to floatation therapy would increase the amount of time I spend feeling creative, and therefore positively impact the production of artwork. My research on floatation therapy would inspire a cohesive body of work that pushes my own creative boundaries while still being strongly related to my past artwork.

A sensory deprivation tank creates an environment void of external stimuli by utilizing
darkness, temperature, and silence to eliminate any sensory input. The tank is filled with water and a large amount of epsom salt so that one’s body is able to float very easily. The water is heated to 93.5 degrees Fahrenheit, making it hard to tell one’s own body from the water, and it is also pitch dark.

Over the summer, I will be attending a one hour sensory deprivation session at a floatation therapy center two times a week for 8 weeks, and documenting my experiences with a series of 8 large oil paintings and 16 small pastel drawings. I will work on the paintings during and after the eight weeks. The pastel drawings will be done immediately after the float (within the same hour) to visually capture my initial mood after the session. Additionally, I will keep a written log to describe how I feel (creatively) and how my feelings compare to the way I felt before partaking in REST. I am so excited to see how the utilization of floatation therapy can impact my artwork and my creative process.

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